With the start of the legislative session, I reached out to the area’s legislative delegation to survey what legislation is important to each of them, the challenges ahead, and their perspective on the upcoming legislative session.
Initially, I expected to wrap the answers into a single story. But the responses were so extensive and informative that I decided it would be more beneficial running these separately. Over the next several days to few weeks, these will appear as a feature: “Under the Dome.”
Senator Dawn Euer, D-Dist. 13 (Newport/Jamestown)
What legislation do you hope to introduce in the 2020 legislative session? Please give a brief description, and why it’s one of your priorities.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment. It has been my great pleasure to serve the people of Newport and Jamestown and I look forward to another active legislative session.
I serve on three standing committees in the Senate (Judiciary; Secretary – Environment and Agriculture; Rules, Government Ethics and Oversight) and on three study commissions (Chair – Study Commission on Vicious Dogs statute; Member – Fisheries Task Force; Member – Natural Gas Transmission Infrastructure). These committees take a great deal of my attention.
Additionally, I have a robust legislative package of bills I am championing.
- I am the lead sponsor of a resolution for a constitutional amendment to create an independent redistricting committee. Every 10 years, after the census, redistricting takes place to ensure that the Senators and Representatives at the State House have an approximately equal number of constituents. The current process has been the subject of lawsuits, criticism and skepticism. We have an opportunity to inspire public confidence and create a transparent and independent process by establishing a citizen redistricting committee.
- Rhode Island needs to act on climate, and I have a slate of legislation intended to do just that. The Resilient RI Act of 2020 will update the carbon reduction goals of the original Resilient RI Act of 2014 while also building transparency, accountability and enforceability into the law. I’m also a lead sponsor on the Climate Change Coastal Adaptation Trust Fund, which will enable cities and towns to apply for grants to fund projects that are necessary to adapt infrastructure for rising sea levels and increased flooding incidents.
- Education is a major focus this session as the Senate continues to advance reform measures to improve the educational outcomes for our students. The Senate also completed a study commission to review the school funding formula and we are working on implementing the recommendations from that study commission. I look forward to working with local officials to identify how the various proposals will affect Newport and will continue to be a strong voice for our schools.
- Senior transportation has my attention this session as well. The state’s vendor for nonemergency medical transportation has changed, but problems remain. Working with accessibility advocates, I am introducing legislation to require nonemergency medical transportation to accommodate riders with wheelchairs.
- I’m continuing to work on legislation to protect customers in the event of another gas outage. I know there are many with unreimbursed claims and it’s an ongoing frustration of mine that local residents, businesses, civic groups and nonprofits bore the cost of the outage without being reimbursed.
What legislation did you introduce in the last legislative session and what was the outcome?
- The Student Loan Bill of Rights prohibiting predatory practices and establishing a regulatory framework to monitor student loan lenders and servicers. The bill was drafted in coordination with Attorney General Neronha and Treasurer Seth Magaziner.
- In the wake of last January’s gas outage, I introduced a Resolution calling for a full investigation of the cause of the outage to ensure it doesn’t happen again. We received that report in October and the process of ensuring the action items are completed. I also introduced successful legislation to require sign-off by a certified engineer of any natural gas plans moving forward.
What did you feel were the legislature’s greatest accomplishments in 2019?
- Passing the Student Loan Bill of Rights to hold student loan servicers accountable. There is a student loan crisis in this country. Borrowers have been double billed, denied public student loan forgiveness, and incorrectly put into default. Under this law, Rhode Islanders can now holder lenders accountable.
- The RI Senate passed a comprehensive legislative package to protect seniors from financial exploitation and abuse. One of the pieces of legislation that I worked on was the Senior Savings Protection Act that allows financial professionals to freeze a senior citizen’s bank account or brokerage account when they suspect a senior has fallen prey to a financial scam or fraud. I also co-sponsored a new law that establishes strong reporting requirements for elder abuse in hospitals and nursing homes.
What were your greatest disappointments in the 2019 legislative session?
I was disappointed in the lack of passage of so many good and important pieces of legislation related to climate change and the environment.
What do you see as the state’s greatest challenges in 2020?
Achieving a balanced budget while avoiding cuts to important programs serving our vulnerable population.
What do you see as the region’s greatest challenges in 2020?
Major infrastructure reaching the end of its life and needing replacement combined with that same infrastructure being impacted by the effects of climate change.
No doubt the most challenging event in 2019 was the gas crisis.
Were you satisfied with the outcome of investigations by the state, feds, and National Grid, including the time it took to complete and release these reports?
I think like everyone, I would have liked to have the report more quickly. But I would rather have all the information and correct information than fast and incomplete with errors.
Do you feel enough has been done to prevent a repeat of the gas crisis?
Yes and no. I think some initial steps have been taken, including the temporary installation of an LNG facility on Aquidneck Island to provide additional capacity on the coldest days/time. However, I don’t think that is a good long-term solution and I don’t necessarily agree with all of the recommendations in the report. I also don’t think that the proper regulatory and legislative fixes have been put in place to truly hold the companies responsible. I’m supporting language in Article 6 of the Governor’s budget that requires the utilities to have emergency plans in place in case of a future service disruption.
What do you believe still needs to be done long-term to assure an uninterrupted gas flow on Aquidneck Island?
We need to continue to transition past fossil fuels. That is the only truly safe and effective option. Pipelines have, do, and will leak. Transitioning to a green energy future is a must.
Is there anything you feel is important for constituents to know at the start of this legislative session?
People can obtain a list of committee schedules, bill drafts, and floor schedules, and watch live streamed and archived videos of hearings and floor schedules on the Rhode Island General Assembly website. I encourage people to take an active role and contact me with their thoughts on legislation that is under consideration. I have also established a periodic electronic newsletter that folks can sign up for here: http://bit.ly/EuerNewsletter